By: Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein
Date: March 16, 2011
There is a movement afoot to turn the acronym STEM—which stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—into STEAM by adding the arts. Science educators have finally begun to realize that the skills required by innovative STEM professionals include arts and crafts thinking. Visual thinking; recognizing and forming patterns; modeling; getting a “feel” for systems; and the manipulative skills learned by using tools, pens, and brushes are all demonstrably valuable for developing STEM abilities. And the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts have gotten the message: formal meetings between the two agencies have begun in order to figure out how to fund productive research and teaching at the intersection of these sets of disciplines.
Since words are our primary means of communicating, anyone who has not mastered their creative use is simply underprepared for any discipline, including STEM subjects.
The agencies also realized that adding the arts to STEM is not enough. We also need to add the thinking skills embodied in reading and writing. STEAM may condense into STREAM!
Writing, like any other art, teaches the entire range of “tools for thinking” that are required to be creative in any discipline (Root-Bernstein and Root-Bernstein 1999). To be a lucid writer, one must observe acutely; abstract out the key information; recognize and create patterns; use analogies and metaphors to model in words some reality that takes place in another dimension; translate sensations, feelings, and hunches into clearly communicable forms; and combine all this sensual information into words that create not only understanding but also delight, remorse, anger, desire, or any other human emotion that will drive understanding into action.
Think about it: what we’ve just described is what a scientist or mathematician does too.